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Business outcry doesn’t stop Missouri religious objections

Business outcry doesn’t stop Missouri religious objections
Gay-rights supporters take part in a rally outside the Capitol Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Jefferson City, Mo.
Gay-rights supporters take part in a rally outside the Capitol Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Jefferson City, Mo. Jeff Roberson, AP

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Despite mounting opposition from top business groups to religious objection bills that have been proposed in several conservative states in the past year, some Missouri Republican legislators say they will press on with their efforts to protect businesses that deny services for same-sex weddings, based on a religious belief.

Days after Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, vetoed a religious objections bill in his state, those behind Missouri legislation that would add a religious protection component to the state constitution say concerns about the potential economic fallout are overblown and they think people’s religious rights are more important.

“These predictions of economic Armageddon are nonsense,” said sponsor Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis.

Since passing the Senate on March 10 after a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats who argued the measure would permit discrimination, business groups such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and major employers in the state including agricultural giant Monsanto and MasterCard have slammed the legislation and cautioned that Missouri could face similar financial consequences as other states with newly passed religious-objections laws.

The measure awaits a hearing in the House, where some Republicans are taking a more cautious approach, including GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson, who cited new concerns about how it might impact business.

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a watered-down version of a religious-objections bill following an outpouring of business opposition last year. Still, Visit Indy, a public-private Indianapolis tourism booster group, reported that a dozen conventions cited the religious objections law as part of the reason they located elsewhere, at a loss of at least $60 million in hotel profits, tax revenues and other economic benefits.

Deal vetoed the Georgia bill after more than 500 companies joined a coalition against it headed by Coca-Cola. The Walt Disney Co. and Marvel Studios threatened to leave the state, and the NFL suggested Atlanta could lose bids for upcoming Super Bowls.

Onder argues that his proposal is narrower than legislation passed in those states. It’s aimed at barring the government from punishing businesses that cite religious objections while declining to provide goods or services of “expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex weddings.

Critics say religious objections laws amount to an invitation to discriminate against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and that Missouri’s proposed amendment would have more far-reaching consequences than its backers describe.

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